Documents show Australia issued numerous warnings that its submarine deal with France was at risk, with a 2020 report from Canberra’s Auditor-General flagging concerns that the agreement was not in the national interest.
Australian officials have stood by their decision to turn to the new AUKUS deal to build submarines, citing documents going back several years that highlighted Canberra’s concerns about delays, cost overruns and suitability of the vessels made by France.
A 2018 independent oversight board, headed up by the former US Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter, suggested Australia seek alternative options to the French naval project and a 2020 Auditor-General report cited concerns about whether the French deal was in the national interest.
The 2020 Future Submarine Program report, examining the French deal, which, at the time, represented “the largest Defence procurement in Australia’s history,” was clear about the increased risk of the planned acquisition, set to cost more than AUD$50 billion (USD $36.24 billion). The independent Auditor-General’s office warned that concerns were growing over potential further delays, which could “create a gap in [the] Navy’s submarine capability.”
Independent Senator for South Australia Rex Patrick, who served in the Royal Australian Navy, declared this week that France “would have to have their eyes shut not to realize the danger they were facing,” referring to the risk of the deal being scrapped.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison stood by the AUKUS deal on Monday, telling reporters at the UN Conference in New York that “we chose not to [proceed with the deal] because we believed to do so would ultimately not be in Australia’s interests.”
French government documents even show that a lawmaker in Paris had raised concerns in the country’s parliament back in June about whether Australia could seek alternative providers for the submarines.
Australia scrapped its order for submarines from France last week, turning instead to the United States and United Kingdom, launching a security partnership titled AUKUS, which will see Canberra secure access to US nuclear technology to develop nuclear-propelled submarines.
The move sparked anger from France, with Paris officials having accused the three nations of stabbing the country in the back by cutting it out of the deal and partnership. Similar concerns have been raised by the EU and member states, including Germany, as well as other nations, such as China and North Korea.
Since the new deal was announced, France has recalled its ambassadors from Australia and America, as well as snubbing the UK by postponing a meeting between Britain’s defense minister and his French counterpart.
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